Simon Hart revisits Italia ‘90 with an entertaining journey through one of the most culturally significant World Cups. It was a rare tournament with Scotland, Ireland and England all qualifying. It was a time of Gazza’s tears, Pavarotti’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ and New Order’s ‘World In Motion’. Italia ‘90 was to prove groundbreaking in so many different ways.
Hart carries out over 100 interviews with players, managers and administrators to paint a vivid picture of one of the most engrossing and memorable tournaments. He has interviews with Cameroon’s Roger Milla, Italy’s Toto Schillaci, West Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann, Argentina’s Sergio Goycochea, and Ireland’s Packie Bonner exploring the full global impact.
In the 380 pages he not only examines the story of the tournament but the long-term social, political and economic paths of each country involved.
There may not have been many goals scored but seismic events were taking place at Italia ’90. As a result of the tournament the offside rule was changed; the ’professional foul’ for denying a goalscoring opportunity would now be given a red card and soon afterwards the back-pass ban came into force.
Hart summarises the significance of Italia 90 in his introduction, ‘It was a tournament which took place at a pivotal moment in the sports evolution; the advent of the Premier League and Champions League was around the corner, the influence of television was growing, and the world of football was about to become a much smaller place. In a sense, it acted as a last hurrah and a searchlight on the future. It had a direct impact on the way the game would be packaged and played in the decades to follow.’
There are plenty of interesting stories to keep the reader engaged throughout, with some highlighting how football was so different back in 1990. For example when Costa Rica played a friendly in Wales prior to the World Cup, a Costa Rica Federation Official was flustered when some players swapped shirts with their Wales counterparts.
“Everything was so new for us, we didn’t have a shirt sponsor,” explains Juan Cayasso,
“We didn’t have enough. One or two of our teammates swapped shirts, and they were like, “No, no, no, that’s not possible, you can’t do it.”
When Costa Rica defeated Scotland in Genoa it was a big shock for the Scots. Hart writes: The next morning The Daily Record begged in their headline,
“Stop the World We Want To Get Off.”
The Times showed a weeping Scotsman with a Tam o’Shanter on his head, a pint in his hand and two tears rolling down his cheek muttering,
“I didn’t even know Costa Rica had a football team.”
Toto Schillaci who became top scorer at Italia ’90 remarkably didn’t make his debut for Italy until 1990. The Sicilian striker had a similarly meteoric rise to Paul Gascoigne.
“I liked Gascoigne a lot because he saw football as a spectacle,”
he says of a man who, like himself was an instinct-driven footballer who flowered at the perfect time.
“There were extraordinary players then. They played for the spirit of the game, for the hunger, for the shirt. It’s no longer like that today. They’re not as good technically as before. Now, football’s based more on running, on speed, and on physical power.”
The memorable anecdotes keep coming with Cameroon’s unlikely hero Roger Milla; Argentina spiking a drink during the Brazil quarter-final; Jack Charlton’s unorthodox methods and the Rocky films providing a major motivator for Italia 90’s stars.
Probably the most iconic moment was in the England versus West Germany semi-final when Gazza fouled Thomas Berthold and is booked. Gazza realises he will miss the World Cup final if England qualifies, tears roll down his cheeks and Gary Linekar signals to the bench.
England’s first ever penalty shoot-out failure was the start of a dispiriting trend. But when the players returned to England they were greeted by 70,000 at Luton Airport and 150,000 lined their route around the town.
Within a few months Gazzamania had taken hold and brought the 23-year-old his own Spitting Image Puppet, an aftershave deal with Brut, and a number two record in the charts with ‘Fog On The Tyne (revisited)’ with the Newcastle band Lindisfarne.
Patrick Barclay writing in The Independent at the time considers the impact of Gascoigne’s tears cannot be overstated.
“It was the beginning of the process that led to English football being the biggest in the world at club level. Because it was the beginning of football as entertainment with the coincidence of Gazza’s tears and a dramatic World Cup. I hope this doesn’t sound sexist, but Gazza’s tears broadened the audience.”
Hart writes, ‘England having produced their two most exciting tournament victories since the 1966 World Cup, against Belgium and Cameroon, had now given the record 26.2 million audience watching at home another epic contest – and a hero with a vulnerable streak.’
Hart has done a tremendous job by capturing the stories behind a perfect moment in the history of the modern game; it is hard to imagine that there could be such a culturally important World Cup in the future.
World in Motion – The Inside Story of Italia ’90 The Tournament That Changed Football By Simon Hart. Published by deCoubertin Books, Price £16.99.
This review first appeared in the June/July 2018 edition of Late Tackle magazine.